Watching the counter rise on the Live Below the Line website can be pretty exhilarating. The tally fools you at first - loitering at $0 for a few moments - before rocketing up past $1.5 million in a matter of seconds.
While it may be just a number to some, that counter tells so many stories.
I recall a time in mid-February, when all we had to show for our efforts was $0. My team and I had already put seven months of planning into Live Below the Line, and we knew we were on the verge of something big. At the same time, we were filled with nerves; for all the spreadsheets, strategy documents and beautiful collateral we had put together, we had no idea how much money we were actually going to make.
Climbing to our first $10,000 in Mid-March was the first chance for us to enjoy a little victory dance. Every dollar we had raised up until that point felt like a huge effort – particularly after our website hit us with a few nasty surprises – but I remember coming to the realisation that thousands of fundraisers could only dream of raising $10K. Sure, we had achieved less than 1/160th of our target, but it was only in the early days, and we had already put our firstwins on the board.
A few weeks later, we’d reached the point where $10,000 was attainable in a single 24-hour period. It was “Live Below the Line Go Day” (27 March, for those of you playing at home), a day when the Oaktree community joined together to call newbies, hand-write postcards, and kickstart their personal fundraising. For years, Oaktree volunteers have been at the heart of this campaign, and this year was no difference. It was a powerful moment being in the office, watching dozens of dedicated volunteers put aside their normal work to help make Live Below the Line a success.
Without a doubt, the most memorable moments unfolded during 4-8 May, when thousands of Australians sacrificed their daily coffees, sweet treats, and overpriced avocado bagels to raise funds and awareness for extreme poverty. For those five days, Live Below the Line became ingrained in the lifestyles of over 9000 individuals, each of whom wanted to better understand some of the challenges faced by the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty. In the meantime, our little friend on the LBL website was rising by not just $10K a day, but $100K.
Live Below the Line was everywhere that week – on billboards across Queensland, on television news bulletins (ABC, Nine and 10), and on the lips of hundreds of thousands of Australians (50,000 of whom donated). Musicians, actors, and bloggers from all corners of the country were participating and endorsing the challenge, taking Oaktree’s message to people who wouldn’t usually engage with this issue. That’s not to mention how much it overtook my Facebook feed; on Monday, all but two of the first 68 items on my news feed were related to Live Below the Line!
As I write, that ticker is sitting at $1,539,458. And by the time you’ve read this entry, that number will have risen even more. That’s a ridiculous sum of money (and certainly more money than I’ll ever see in my lifetime, especially if I remain in the not-for-profit sector…)
It’s hard to comprehend what kind of impact those funds will have, although I’ve been fortunate enough to witness some of Oaktree’s most exciting impacts firsthand.
I think about the brief time I spent with KAPE, a Cambodian non-government education organisation, in 2013, listening to scholarship students share their dreams for the future. For some of them, those dreams included becoming a doctor or a teacher; for others, it involved starting up an NGO to help fight poverty in the region. I also think of Oaktree’s powerful advocacy work, and my experiences of sitting in the offices of Parliament House, challenging this nation’s leaders to take further action on extreme poverty.
Without a doubt, we’ll hear great stories over the coming months about how the funds have made a difference. But Live Below the Line is more than just a means to an end. Just as important are the stories of participants, who developed a personal connection with the issue of extreme poverty and are now motivated to do something about it. For five days, their $2 experience gave them a chance to talk to their friends, family, and colleagues about one of this world’s most pressing issues, and surely that’s got to count for something.
Kevin Hawkins, Head of Live Below the Line